$110 million of collaborative investment to fulfill community's vision to transform former LaSalle Park into one-of-a-kind, world-class park on Buffalo's waterfront
√ Phase I construction includes a signature pedestrian bridge for improved access, ball field improvements and shoreline rehabilitation
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the City of Buffalo and the Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy broke ground on Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park, a 99-acre park located on Buffalo's waterfront.
Her team said, “Rooted in the guidance of ‘Imagine LaSalle,’ the community-driven visioning process for the former LaSalle Park, Ralph Wilson Park will undergo a $110 million transformation into one of the most beautiful and inclusive public spaces in the country, serving nearby residents and visitors from across the region and beyond. The park's name honors the legacy of the late entrepreneur, veteran and philanthropist Ralph C. Wilson Jr. It is expected to be complete in late 2025.”
"Generations of Buffalo Bills fans knew of founder Ralph Wilson's commitment to Buffalo and generosity during his life," Hochul said. "The groundbreaking of Ralph Wilson Park will bring a collaborative transformation of this waterfront park into a vibrant community space, where future generations will enjoy gathering for many years to come. This will ensure Ralph Wilson's love for our community continues to make an impact."
Conservancy Board President Belanger said, “This is Buffalo's largest waterfront park and has been an integral part of the Western New York community since 1932, when it hosted the City of Buffalo's centennial celebration. Development of this scale happens once in a lifetime. Ralph Wilson Park will rank among the country's best parks and profoundly impact our neighborhoods. Generations of Buffalonians will gather here and make memories that last a lifetime. We are proud to be working with partners throughout the community to help this park reach its full potential as a destination for Western New Yorkers and visitors from across the region and beyond."
Mayor Byron Brown said, "In October 2018, Mary Wilson came to Buffalo and warmed our city's collective heart by announcing the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation would invest $50 million to help my administration's efforts to transform the former LaSalle Park into a world-class waterfront destination that would make the most of the natural beauty of this one-of-its-kind setting. Today's groundbreaking is a major milestone in the inclusive and transparent planning process to create a 'people's park' that will be enjoyed by the neighboring community, and all Buffalo residents, for generations to come."
In addition to its initial $50 million investment, the foundation provided added funding to launch the “Imagine LaSalle” initiative, a multiyear, community-driven effort to explore and develop a community vision for the park to transform it into a world-class destination for neighbors, residents and visitors.
The University at Buffalo Regional Institute (UBRI) led the engagement by partnering with the Wilson Foundation, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, the City of Buffalo's Division of Parks and Recreation, the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. (BUDC), the Department of Community Services and Recreational Programming, and Mayor's Office of Strategic Planning.
Hochul’s team said, “Funders and stakeholders have since worked to fulfill the community's vision for Ralph Wilson Park. Designed to celebrate the park's culture of inclusivity and diversity, and to embrace nature with inspiring landscaping, it will undergo a dramatic transformation. The topography will change with sweeping hills and valleys, active and diverse recreation activities, and destination play space for children of all ages. The new design will increase neighborhood connectivity through a new pedestrian bridge, maximize safe water access, and establish a resilient shoreline to mitigate the effects of climate change and rising lake levels.”
David O. Egner, president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, said, "Today's groundbreaking would not be possible without the collaboration of the City of Buffalo, New York state and so many partners that have come together to leverage and build upon the commitment made by the foundation in 2018, honoring our founder, Ralph Wilson. The ‘Imagine LaSalle’ engagement process provided an ambitious community vision for the future Ralph Wilson Park that paved the way for this incredible group of partners, stakeholders and funders to join us in supporting this once-in-a-lifetime investment in a public space that will be open and welcoming to all."
The park will be built in phases over the next few years. Construction is expected to begin in late summer, starting with a signature pedestrian bridge to give parkgoers easier access to the site. Plans also call for updating several baseball and softball fields, and to rehabilitate the inlet area to create a resilient shoreline to protect the park from higher lake levels and severe weather.
Some other work has already been completed: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has significantly renovated the existing seawall in front of the Colonel Ward Pumping Station, the Buffalo Water Authority has completed repairs of a 48-inch water main, and improvements to the skate park and Empire State Trail behind the Waterfront Village housing have been completed.
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, a New York-based landscape architecture firm known worldwide for its creative and unique urban design, has designed the park in collaboration with the City of Buffalo, BUDC, UBRI, and “Imagine LaSalle” project partners. MVVA is also designing a "sister" Ralph Wilson Park on the Detroit Riverfront, the other geographic focus for the Wilson Foundation. Architecture and engineering firm schlaich bergermann partner (sbp) is leading the design and construction of the new pedestrian bridge spanning the I-190, connecting Ralph Wilson Park with surrounding neighborhoods. BUDC and Gardiner & Theobold are managing the entire project. A team of construction firms, led by Gilbane Building Co., will provide construction management services.
Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park Yellowwood Grove rendering. (Photo credit: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc./courtesy of the Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul)
Phase one of the park is fully funded, and the overall park is more than 90% funded to support the construction.
In October 2019, New York state awarded a $10 million grant to support the construction of that pedestrian bridge. The New York State Environmental Facilities Corp. has provided $2.5 million for the inlet, while $1.5 million came from Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper's “Buffalo Blueway” initiative to implement a public access blueway site within the park, which is funded in part by Empire State Development. In addition, the U.S. Department of the Interior has awarded $2 million for the playground through the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) Program.
The City of Buffalo provided $3 million to support the new pedestrian bridge to connect the lower west side neighborhood to the park and waterfront. The Wilson Foundation provided an additional $10 million in match funding for the pedestrian bridge and shoreline resiliency to ensure the full community vision is realized. The Greenway Commission has provided over $2.5 million to support increased connectivity to the shoreline and Empire State Trails, as well as increased circulation through the park. MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation, a joint initiative between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, provided $1 million for the youth baseball and softball field renovations.
In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has provided $2 million of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding to support engineering and design work and pre-construction activities for coastal habitat restoration through a regional partnership with the Great Lakes Commission.
NOAA is now recommending an additional $10 million of GLRI funding through a renewed partnership with the Great Lakes Commission for construction of the restoration project to increase the coastal habitat and to build a more resilient shoreline.
Hochul’s team said, “These efforts will greatly support the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative action plan, with Ralph Wilson Park as a priority habitat site to be protected and restored. The park will be located within the Niagara Area of Concern (AOC), deemed so in part due to loss of fish and wildlife habitat, and the degradation of fish populations. In addition, the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's collaboration on the shoreline will embark on habitat restoration and related initiatives to include the Western New York Land Conservancy's effort to locally collect and grow native plants for the inlet area of the park. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will also support by planting over 2,600 trees.”
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "The future Ralph Wilson Park is an exciting project with big environmental benefits to the communities surrounding it, providing new public access to the Lake Erie and Niagara River waterfronts, and outdoor education aimed at preserving our natural resources. It also supports DEC's commitment to wildlife conservation, representing a significant opportunity to restore lost and degraded fish and wildlife habitat that used to call this area home."
New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, "Congratulations on reaching a major milestone in the creation of this new park on the amazing Buffalo waterfront. Public parks are an integral and vital part of communities. It is so gratifying to see the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and the people of Buffalo come together to build this wonderful and inclusive public park."
EPA Region 2 Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia said, "This is an exciting day for everyone who loves Buffalo and Lake Erie. This project was developed with input from a community historically overburdened by pollution and unable to enjoy the benefits of this wonderful waterfront. Through the investments from the ‘Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,’ we will make unprecedented progress in restoring and protecting the waters of Buffalo, ensuring waterfront access and green space for everyone to enjoy."
Buffalo Urban Development Corp. President Brandye Merriweather and Executive Vice President Rebecca Gandour said, "On behalf of Mayor Byron Brown (chairman of the BUDC board of directors) and Brendan Mehaffy (chair of BUDC's downtown committee), we are so thrilled to celebrate the groundbreaking of Ralph Wilson Park. Many thanks to our fantastic project partners who have been working so hard over the past several years to get us to this point. Establishing Ralph Wilson Centennial Park as a world-class waterfront destination aligns with BUDC's vision for enhancing the sense of place in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the City of Buffalo."
MLB and MLBPA Youth Development Foundation Executive Director Jean Lee Batrus said, "We are proud to join the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and all the other great partners on this community-driven revitalization of Ralph Wilson Park. Our support of this project aligns perfectly with the mission of our organization of increasing youth baseball and softball participation and bringing different cultures and communities together. We look forward to seeing the overall completion of the park."
Great Lakes Commission Executive Director Erika Jensen said, "The Great Lakes Commission is proud of its role in enhancing coastal resilience and improving fish and wildlife habitat in the Niagara River Area of Concern. This innovative project was developed by a dedicated team of local partners, businesses, state and federal agencies, following a robust community planning process, and incorporates habitat restoration into the greater transformation of the park. We are excited that it will provide ecological benefits and recreational opportunities to the entire Buffalo community."
NOAA Fisheries Office of Habitat Conservation Director Carrie Selberg said, "The Ralph Wilson Park project will provide a multitude of benefits for the Niagara River ecosystem and the City of Buffalo by creating coastal wetlands, removing hardened shoreline, and creating habitat for a variety of fish species. NOAA is proud to be partnering on such a transformative effort for the local community, and we're excited to see the project underway."
New York State Environmental Facilities Corp. President and CEO Maureen A. Coleman said, "EFC is pleased to support this important environmental justice project with a $2.5 million green innovation grant to help re-naturalize the Lake Erie shoreline. The project will add beautiful greenspace to the shore by removing concrete seawalls and transforming it with wetlands, which provide aquatic vegetation and fish habitats that will flourish over time and add natural resilience to the waterfront. Not only will this project provide recreational opportunities for the people of Buffalo and its visitors, but it will also improve the water quality of Lake Erie by buffering flood events, reducing erosion, storing carbon, and providing increased habitat for aquatic vegetation, marine life, and wildlife."
Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka said, "For the past five years, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper has been thrilled to be a part of this incredible park team in this once-in-a-lifetime project on our city's waterfront. The commitment and vision of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, combined with the collaboration of the City of Buffalo and dozens of partners, will deliver a legacy of equitable public access and healthy ecosystems in memory of Mr. Wilson. Waterkeeper is honored to support this work through our ‘Buffalo Blueway Initiative’ and helping secure significant habitat and ecosystem funding for this park. We remain a committed partner to seeing this project to the end and ensuring successful implementation of ecosystem and shoreline improvements."
Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy
The Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy is the not-for-profit organization created to work in partnership with the City of Buffalo to operate, maintain and promote the public use of Ralph Wilson Park. Established in 2021, the conservancy is committed to reflecting the priorities laid out through the “Imagine LaSalle” public engagement process and establishing the framework by which the park will be operated and maintained, with a continued focus on input from the community it serves.
To learn more, visit https://RWParkBuffalo.org.